Does Voluntourism Need A Guy With A Whistle?

One of the things that I enjoy when traveling is observing the guys with their whistles at restaurants, coffee shops, malls, and other high-trafficked areas that administer guidance in re-assimilating a passenger vehicle into the mainstream traffic patterns of a given area. These guys are some of the bravest folks I have ever encountered. They will step out in front of a line of motos, autos, and trucks heading in their direction to help a motorist reinsert themselves into the traffic-matrix. Of course, they probably would not be needed if the over-arching mentality was that of other drivers wanting to facilitate that re-entry process. But this is hard to find in certain parts of the world; thus, making their role an important one in the grand scheme of things.

Over the years I have watched the traffic around voluntourism expand – more operators, more media attention, more naysayers, more participants, more communities, more destinations – lots and lots of traffic. As a result, things have gotten a bit discourteous. Corners are being cut, practical advice is being ignored, and the education that has previously been provided is being overlooked and undervalued. In my opinion…

Voluntourism now needs that guy with a whistle.

Our whistle “guy” – I put this in quotations because we could certainly engage a whistle “girl” for this role – must have the patience to deal with the advancing amount of traffic out there. Our whistle guy has to understand her/his role in dealing with discourteous drivers and those who are seeking to cut corners in the voluntourism space.

When to Blow the Whistle?

Some could say that this is a trick question. You only blow it when someone has put their vehicle in reverse and is preparing to reinsert that vehicle into the traffic matrix. Some of the best whistle blowers I have ever come into contact with, however, start blowing the whistle before the individual even steps into her/his vehicle. Can you imagine? The whistle guy is preparing the space around the vehicle – the driver, pedestrians who may be walking nearby, a fellow whistle guy – everyone is starting to be alerted to the fact that the vehicle reinsertion process is underway – and the engine hasn’t even started yet, heck, the door to the vehicle hasn’t even been opened.

One of the biggest challenges in voluntourism is the traffic of ideas. Everybody has an idea about voluntourism. There are so many ideas about voluntourism, so many concepts and approaches, that the foundational underpinnings of voluntourism have been utterly and completely lost amidst the “pile-on” of ideas that has occurred since this movement reached a level of recognition roughly a decade ago. Academics have created one traffic pattern. The naysayers and proponents have their own respective ones. NGOs have their own. The voluntourists have their own. Universities & colleges have their own. Tourism companies have their own. Journalists & writers have their own. The world of voluntourism has become so complex that the difficulty involved in navigating the traffic patterns has me wondering if even the best whistle guy on the planet can handle this task.

One of the first approaches for our whistle guy, therefore, may be to get the traffic patterns organized within each of the silos that have been created. He may have to start with the “motos of naysayers” and group them. He may have to move to the “tuk-tuks” of academics next and herd that batch and work his way through to all of the clusters. Then he will know how to bring new vehicles into the traffic pattern. It will not be an easy process. Individuals are trying to formalize their own schools of thought on voluntourism and this is leading to a great deal of confusion.

When to Step Into Traffic?

It is one thing to blow the whistle. It is an entirely different thing to step into traffic, to place yourself between the oncoming traffic and a vehicle which is trying to enter the pattern. There is no way to change the vehicle. The only thing that can be done is to facilitate the process, while doing so in a timely manner.

The voluntourism space presents a number of opportunities to step into the traffic. One such time is when an article or book is published – be it in the mainstream media, an academic journal, or a voluntourism guidebook or a personal account of a voluntourism experience or series of experiences. When a new program is launched, when an anniversary occurs, when a new video is produced – all of these times can be advantageous for one who is trying to assimilate her/himself into the traffic pattern.

Final Thoughts…

On one hand, this post is offered as homage for some really great whistle guys out there. Here’s to you! On the other hand, this post is asking a pretty important question: what is needed so we can start making sense of what is becoming a very heavily-trafficked voluntourism space?

Voluntourism is difficult enough already. What we are doing to the traffic pattern is only creating more confusion. We may talk about trying to improve it, but all I see with the current efforts to improve it are efforts to diffuse it – individuals and entities trying to create their own respective identities within the voluntourism space. This is hardly something that will prove to be valuable over time.

Our whistle guy will need some additional skill in helping to navigate the voluntourism world of 2013. I hope we can find her/him. Time is of the essence.


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